Militant Journalism

Community challenges Green Line subway extension that threatens Somerville residents with displacement

The Green Line Extension is a long-awaited expansion of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority subway system in Boston, reaching north into Somerville for the first time. The Union Square station opened on March 21, and five additional stops will open in Somerville and Medford this summer.

The extension is touted by local politicians as a progressive victory and a boon to residents that will allow quick access to downtown Boston. But working-class residents around the new station are already facing displacement as their apartments are bought out by developers who hope to raise rents and attract wealthier tenants.

One of the developers, the Union Square Project, or USQ, is a $2 billon, 15-acre development that will contain luxury condos, commercial and retail space. The project is supported by local politicians and real estate partner USAA Real Estate. Only 20% of the units will be affordable housing, a statistic that USQ plays as progressive, even though it’s the minimum required by the municipality. Even before it is finished, the prospect of this upscale development in the neighborhood is causing landlords to raise rents.

Union Square resident Candice Cole told Liberation News that her landlord is almost doubling her rent. “At this rate, rampant greed and real estate speculation is going to continue to eat away at our communities like a cancer until we take action to stop it,” she said.

In response to a call to action from Community Action Agency of Somerville and Mayor Ballantyne, the Somerville Board of Health extended the city’s eviction moratorium to June 30 — this means the moratorium will expire amidst a housing crisis caused by the Green Line Extension. 

Community press conference challenges opening ceremony

Local politicians and stakeholders gathered on one side of North First Street on March 21 for their MassDOT Grand Opening Ceremony of the Green Line Extension. On the other side of North First Street, CAAS held a community press conference with other housing and transportation justice organizers, and about 70 Somerville residents.

Vanessa Vela shares her struggle against gentrification caused by the Green Line Extension at the CAAS Community press conference on March 21. Liberation photo

Without protections on affordable housing, Somerville is being bought out “by an army of smaller, predatory developers and greed-driven landlords who are reaping in profits and evicting the people this train extension was supposedly built for,” Nicole Eigbrett told the crowd. Eigbrett is the Director of Community Organizing at CAAS, a non-profit that advocates for rent stabilization and increased affordable housing, and works with local residents facing eviction. 

Across the street, local politicians lauded the Green Line Extension as a victory for transit justice. “The line will connect thousands of residents in Cambridge and Somerville to new economic opportunities,” Senator Ed Markey said, “and will cut fossil fuel emissions and break down barriers for workers.” 

Back at the community press conference, Vanessa Vela said she lives with her mother and young son, and that her family fears eviction. Her apartment was purchased by a new landlord who is doubling the rent for similar units in her building. “I have been a resident of Somerville for the past 17 years,” she said. “My son only knows Somerville as his home. When investors came to my house, our dreams came down to all agony.”

A USQ condominium under construction towers over Union Square Station. It will be unaffordable for most current Somerville residents. Liberation photo

“They sell the idea that it was going to be to the benefit of the working class,” Vela said.

‘We deserve to be able to live there too

Five more Green Line Extension stops are scheduled to open in East Somerville, Gilman Square, Magoun Square, Ball Square and Medford this summer. These openings promise more gentrification, land acquisition and rising rents around the new stops.

The eviction moratorium offers respite through the end of June, but the additional stops will open after the moratorium ends.

“The working class builds, maintains and serves these communities, and we deserve to be able to live there too,” Cole said. “We shouldn’t be forced out of the neighborhoods we’ve spent our entire lives building because some company somewhere wants another revenue stream.”

Somerville residents can contact Community Action Agency of Somerville for eviction support, help applying for rental assistance and legal aid. CAAS’s Know Your Rights Youtube playlist has resources for residents of both Somerville and all of Massachusetts.

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